Sex Offender Fights Removal From Hospice
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A Florida city's sex-offender law faces scrutiny in litigation over whether a wheelchair-bound former doctor, convicted of patient abuse in the 1980s, should be forced out of a hospice due to its proximity to a school.
A Palm Beach County court petition filed Aug. 31 claims Jack Ehrhart, a hospice patient with end-stage Alzheimer's disease, has been threatened with arrest if he does not move out of Heartland of Boynton Beach, a nursing home near a local preschool.
The City of Boynton Beach purportedly issued a notice to Ehrhart and the hospice accusing them of violating an ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, daycare center or playground.
"Heartland claims to be incurring fines imposed by the city due to plaintiff's status and has threatened to have Boynton Beach Police arrest [him] for a violation of the ordinance," according to the emergency petition, filed by Ehrhart's wife under a power of attorney.
The pleading insists that a criminal prosecution of Ehrhart would have to show he made a "purposeful decision" to maintain residency within the restricted area. His Alzheimer's disease renders him "completely incapable of having the requisite intent or mens rea necessary" to prove as much, the filing states.
Heartland has tried to relocate Ehrhart to another facility, but options are scarce because the former gynecologist remains in the Florida sex-offender registry, on account of his conviction for felony indecent assault in Massachusetts.
The conviction dates back to the mid 1980s, when several patients accused Ehrhart of touching them sexually during gynecological exams. His medical license was suspended in the wake of the criminal charges, according to board records.
Ehrhart filed an appeal in the criminal case, alleging in part that amid a proceeding regarding one of the victims, damning testimony from two other patients was improperly allowed. He argued that prejudiced the jurors and sealed his fate as a sex offender.
But the appeals court ruled the testimony was not unfairly prejudicial, as it had significant probative value in establishing a specific pattern of sexual misconduct.
"Each witness testified that, like the victim, she was given a clitoral massage by the defendant while lying on her back, draped only in a sheet and with her feet in stirrups. Each incident took place in [a specific] examining room with a nurse present, taking notes," a Massachusetts judge wrote more than 30 years ago.
Ehrhart's name surfaced in the Chicago Tribune in 1985, when he unsuccessfully applied for a training position at the University of Chicago pending his appeal, according to the paper's archives.
He was removed from the Massachusetts sex-offender list in 2011, according to the recently filed petition.
His attorney, Cindy D'Agostino, wrote that she is confident she will be able to remove him from the Florida registry before he dies. A Florida statute allows some sex offenders to be removed from the registry 25 years after they have been "released from confinement, supervision, or sanction, whichever is later."
The petition seeks to enjoin the City of Boynton Beach, the sole defendant, from forcing Ehrhart out of the Heartland nursing home until a hearing on his sex-offender-registry removal is held.
His attorney requested an emergency injunction, claiming that Ehrhart is in imminent danger of being arrested and placed in a detention center with inadequate hospice care.
He will have no place to be housed upon his release, as his wife is unable to provide the necessary medical attention and no nursing homes want to accept him, according to the petition.
"Plaintiff suffers from end-stage Alzheimer's disease and is incapable of making decisions or having rational thought and could not be guilty of any violation," the petition states.
The presiding circuit judge ruled last Friday that "this matter is not [an] emergency and shall be heard in the ordinary course."